March 21, 2000
When the first round of the NCAA tournament ended, the higher seeds were firmly in control. All of the top 20 seeds were still around and upsets were harder to find than Final Four tickets.
The second round brought the madness back to March.
There are more sixth-seeded teams left than No. 1s. There are more 10th-seeded teams than No. 2s.
The 16 teams left range from Miami (first time in the third round) to Wisconsin (first time since 1947) to a regional regular like Duke (11 of the last 15 years).
During their game against Kansas, the Blue Devils knew what they were up against as they listened to the public address announcer.
"We heard them giving out all those scores," Chris Carrawell said. "My whole train of thought was, 'We can't lose. We can't be another high seed to go down."'
The bad news for those lower-seeded teams is that the third round usually means the end of the road. Over the last three years only six of the 24 lower-seeded teams advanced to the round of eight, but four of those winners were seeded sixth or lower.
It should be time again for the favorites to move on. But remember, this is the NCAA tournament.
No. 5 Florida (26-7) vs. No. 1 Duke (29-4) - Duke is two wins from a second straight Final Four berth and one from a third straight 30-win season. The Blue Devils didn't look sharp in beating Kansas in the second round, but coach Mike Krzyzewski will have almost a week to get ready for the Gators. Duke beat Florida 116-86 last season, but that was a young group of Gators against the nation's No. 1 team. Florida escaped the first round with a spectacular buzzer-beater by Mike Miller and then looked more like itself in beating Illinois.
No. 10 Seton Hall (22-9) vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State (26-6) - Seton Hall won both games in overtime behind impressive games from their point guards. Shaheen Holloway had 27 points and the game-winner against Oregon. When he got hurt, backup Ty Shine had 26 points and the game-winner against Temple. If Holloway's ankle injury keeps him out, look for the 3-pointers to keep flying. Oklahoma State has the tournament's most experienced team with eight seniors. While the veteran backcourt has been more than solid, sophomore Fredrik Jonzen has stepped up in the middle.
No. 8 North Carolina (20-13) vs. No. 4 Tennessee (26-6) - North Carolina doesn't look anything like the team so many people questioned even being in the field of 64. With Brendan Haywood dominating in the middle, Joseph Forte shooting as he did at the start of his freshman season and Ed Cota looking like his old self at the point, the Tar Heels shocked No. 1 Stanford in reaching 20 wins for the 30th consecutive season. Tennessee got a break in its victory over defending champion Connecticut when Khalid El-Amin was limited by an ankle injury. The Volunteers still are one of the deepest teams in the tournament, and guard Tony Harris keeps them in their running game. But free throw shooting could be a problem in a tight game.
No. 7 Tulsa (31-4) vs. No. 6 Miami (23-10) - This is the best defensive match of the regional semifinals. Both teams keep opponents below 40 percent shooting, and combined they average 20 steals a game. Tulsa, maybe the least publicized team left in the tournament, has five players averaging in double figures, with Brandon Kurtz strong in the middle. The Hurricanes rely on Johnny Hemsley for scoring, but center Mario Bland has come up big late in the season.
No. 4 Syracuse (26-5) vs. No. 1 Michigan State (28-7) - Michigan State is playing close to home and trying to get back to the Final Four. The Spartans are the best rebounding team left in the field and they have two stars in Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson. The one weakness is outside shooting, and that's exactly what is needed against a 2-3 zone like Syracuse's. The Orangemen need to keep center Etan Thomas on the floor as much as possible to negate the Spartans' rebounding edge, but they also need his usual shot-blocking. Syracuse usually goes as senior point guard Jason Hart goes.
No. 6 UCLA (21-11) vs. No. 2 Iowa State (31-4) - UCLA is a different team with the return of forward JaRon Rush, who missed the season because of an NCAA violation. Point guard Earl Watson is making the most it, with 28 assists in the two games. Watson underwent laser surgery after being elbowed in the eye against Maryland, but he will play. Iowa State has kept right on rolling after winning both Big 12 titles. All-America Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley have starred in the first two rounds. The Cyclones' lack of tournament experience has not been a factor so far.
No. 8 Wisconsin (20-13) vs. No. 4 LSU (28-5) - Wisconsin is one of the nation's best defensive teams, as shown by its handling of Fresno State's Courtney Alexander in the opener. But the Badgers have also picked up the scoring, which helped in the upset of top-seeded Arizona. The Badgers are 9-3 in their last 12 games, all the losses to Michigan State. LSU's frontline might be the best left in the tournament, and the Tigers will keep going inside and speed things up against Wisconsin. LSU recovered nicely from their first-round scare against Southeast Missouri State by handling Texas.
No. 10 Gonzaga (26-8) vs. No. 6 Purdue (23-9) - This is a matchup of experienced teams and contrasting styles. Gonzaga, which beat Florida in overtime in this round last year, is a good 3-point shooting team. It is more than one player, with Richie Frahm scoring a tournament-best 31 points against Louisville in the opening round and Matt Santangelo scoring 26 in the second-round win over St. John's. Purdue is in this round for the third straight year, but the five senior starters haven't advanced. Any of the Boilermakers is capable of scoring, but Brian Cardinal will be the leader on the floor.
By JIM O'CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer